The View From the Top

Our last day in Cape Town we spent most of the morning getting organized for our onward journey. We had to repack for more safari and temporary bag storage, and we needed to organize our purchases so that we could request a VAT refund at the airport before flying to Botswana. I looked up the requirements for VAT refunds online and found we needed to present the items along with the receipts for inspection. This meant that we had to have all our purchases separated from our packed luggage, and then after the inspections we would need to pack them away to check our bags for the flight. Because we were headed off on safari with very limited baggage allowances, we couldn’t simply carry them on the plane. One thing I would recommend when traveling abroad to countries that charge a VAT on purchases is to look up the rules and procedures for getting your refund before you get to the last minute. In the case of South Africa, you have to have an official tax receipt and not all vendors automatically provide this. Knowing that ahead of time would have been helpful. Lesson learned. We were debating whether to do our requesting in Cape Town on the way to Botswana, or to wait until our layover in Johannesburg on the way home. We decided on Cape Town which turned out to be much the best idea.

After getting ourselves sorted, we felt free to go off and spend the day at leisure. We found that what little cloud cover there had been in the morning had disappeared. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and perfect weather for a trip up to the top of Table Mountain! We drove ourselves up the hill to the parking area for the Aerial Cableway that provides a scenic and effortless way to the top. The wait was not long and soon we were gliding up the mountain in a gondola with a revolving floor, providing all passengers with a good view.


You can just see the gondola in the very center of the picture.


On the way up we saw there were rock climbers scaling the cliffs and hikers looking like tiny dots on the trails. At the top, the temperature was cooler but still nice, and the wind was not too strong. Sometimes they have to close the Cableway because of bad weather or high winds, so we lucked out with the perfect day. Needless to say, the view was stunning.


Camps Bay

P1020882 P1020886 P1020888 There are a number of trails that wander across the top of Table Mountain giving you a chance to stretch your legs and take in the views from different vantage points. We made the circuit and enjoyed looking into the distance at some of the places we had been the day before. Michael even spotted a whale in the water way down below. Sharp eyes! We also saw people arriving at the top by the more traditional method of hiking up a switchbacked trail. Judging by the sweat on their brows, I’d say they earned their Wheaties!


Notice the people on the trail along the top of Table Mountain


This is where the trail from the bottom comes up

This is where the trail from the bottom comes up


You can see some of the trails zig zagging along the side of the mountain.


The City Bowl laid out below

The City Bowl laid out below

After spending some time soaking it all in and enjoying the magnificent view, we had some refreshment at the mountaintop café and then boarded the Cableway for the ride down. If you like a good view, then going to the top of Table Mountain is definitely an activity I would recommend in Cape Town, assuming the weather cooperates. If you have issues with heights, you can stand near the center of the gondola and be surrounded by people without having to see any real drop-offs. At the top there are areas to take in the view that have walls between you and the cliff’s edge, though there are other areas without this protection. I don’t think I would enjoy it very much if it were extremely windy or the weather was bad, but on the day we went, it was perfect and you could see for miles.

Signal hill with City Bowl and Robben Island in the distance where Nelson Mandela was held in prison.

Lions Head and Signal Hill with City Bowl and Robben Island in the distance where Nelson Mandela was held in prison.


Back at our hotel, we relaxed a little before heading down to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront for sunset and some dinner. We decided to take a taxi so that we wouldn’t have to deal with driving in the city at night or finding parking on our return. It was fun to see yet another side of Cape Town. The V & A Waterfront is a developed area right on the harbor that bears some similarity to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, although it is newer, more modern, and more attractive than its American counterpart. Sorry San Francisco! There are shops, restaurants, hotels and marinas with outdoor areas to stroll and view the activity. It is a working harbor as well, so there are commercial buildings and wharfs and vessels of all sorts in the water.

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On the way there our cabbie had told us about the Volvo Ocean Race which had just arrived to spend a few weeks in Cape Town as one of its ports of call. It brought a lot of people, business, and jobs to the waterfront. When we arrived there were big signs pointing the way to a special area to view the boats etc. We looked around a bit and then decided to wander in that direction. On the way we saw a couple of bands busking.


As it turns out, our timing was impeccable. The Volvo Ocean Race is an around the world sailing race and this year, the first leg was from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa, over 6,000 miles! We actually saw the first two boats arrive in port after more than 25 days at sea! The Abu Dhabi Ocean Team finished first, followed by the Dongfeng Race Team. We saw these two boats being fêted with music and cheering as they backed into their spots on the wharf. They were very high tech looking while also looking quite bare the way true racing boats do. I’m sure the crews must have been very tired after such a long journey, but also relieved.

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We watched the festivities for a bit and then found an Indian restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the waterfront for our dinner. We were joined by lots of other people also enjoying the beautiful evening. After a pleasant dinner we wandered the shops and stopped to see one of the same bands again. Eventually we made our way back to the taxi stand and had some more interesting conversation with a cabbie on the way home. The waterfront was a lively place and it was a fun spot to spend a few hours.


Table Mountain in the late light

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A Botanical Dream

We arrived at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in mid to late afternoon and were feeling quite peckish. So, after paying our admission fee we went straight to a restaurant on the grounds to have a light meal and plan our visit. Kirstenbosch is situated on the eastern side of Table Mountain and the gardens climb the slopes. The Botanical Garden is also part of a Nature Reserve which abuts Table Mountain National Park, so the area is beautiful and pristine well beyond the borders of the Garden and there are numerous hiking trails nearby.


The Botanical Garden was founded in 1913 and is dedicated to preserving and presenting the unique and astonishingly diverse flora of South Africa. For the most part, only indigenous plants are cultivated. Suitably refreshed by our meal we struck out to wander the gardens with only a vague idea of a plan. The late afternoon sun was shining again and it was a beautiful time to be there. We walked past the Dell, visited Colonel Bird’s Bath, and strolled through areas of Cycads, Ericas, Proteas, and Fynbos. The bird life was delightful, the scenery dramatic, and the flowers were stunning. It was very peaceful with lots of benches and secret spots one could imagine returning to. We both agreed that it would be an easy place to come back to and enjoy spending lots of relaxed time. During the summer months they have Sunday afternoon concerts on the lawn which also sounded lovely. We took lots of photos as it was just so beautiful.


Looking up toward Table Mountain


Tree ferns!


Colonel Bird’s Bath

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A sunbird



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At one point in our wanderings we spotted a large bird sitting in a tree. We were very excited to realize it was a Spotted Eagle Owl. As we were getting closer to it, we came upon another one, presumably its mate, sitting on a branch with some owlets on a rock nearby.




An owlet – very fuzzy!



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The Arboretum section of the Botanical Garden had a special tree canopy walkway that allowed you to walk among the tree tops. It was neat to get a different perspective being up high. The walkway was very well constructed and curved through the trees.

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IMG_0630As we wound our way back down toward the entrance we walked along “Camphor Avenue”. This had wonderful mature camphor trees forming a canopy over the walkway.

P1020876 P1020875 IMG_0646At the end of our visit we went into the gift shop. We didn’t have too long as it was almost closing time, but we enjoyed the very nice selection of things at that shop. We loved Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden and would go back in a heartbeat to spend more time there. I would say it’s a must see for anyone visiting Cape Town.

After our visit, we got back in the car and found our way back to An African Villa without too much difficulty. Before we left in the morning we had made reservations for dinner at The Miller’s Thumb, another restaurant near our hotel which had been recommended. On our way back I called the restaurant to push back our reservation so that we’d have a little time to relax before going out to eat. It worked out perfectly. We flopped down in our hotel room after our day’s adventures and enjoyed a drink before walking the ten minutes down the way.

The Miller’s Thumb turned out to be a good choice. Fish was their specialty and we both had some. The atmosphere was lively and the service was quick. I snapped a photo with my phone of their colorful interior.


The Miller’s Thumb

After a delicious dinner we strolled back to our hotel and discussed plans for our final day in Cape Town.

Penguin pictures re-posted

My apologies to anyone who is following this blog on an iPad and not on a computer. Apparently the slideshow of penguins I inserted in my last post required Javascript and therefore is not visible unless you are on a computer. To correct that situation I am posting the pictures individually here so that everyone can see them. I guess I’m still learning what works and doesn’t with this blogging thing!

















A lone penguin heads off into the bushes

Pink eyelids!

Pink eyelids!







Two Oceans

I was a little disappointed when we woke on our second day in Cape Town to find it still drizzling and cloudy. Nevertheless we decided to press on with our Peninsula tour anyway. Boy am I glad we did! Our intention was to drive around the Cape Peninsula taking in the views, possibly going all the way to the end to the Cape of Good Hope, and maybe even stopping at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens too. It seemed an ambitious itinerary to fit in one day, but Michael was confident that the distances weren’t really that far. We had been given an overview of the best stops and sights by Louis at An African Villa. Because of the weather we decided to go around the Peninsula first instead of starting with the Botanical Gardens in hopes that the weather would improve. We gathered some things for a day of sightseeing in the car and set off in the drizzle over the hill and down into Camps Bay. From there we drove along the coast south toward Hout Bay. Almost immediately the weather started to improve. The drizzle stopped and the clouds began to break up. It seemed the clouds and rain were mostly hanging around City Bowl! In Hout Bay we started on Chapman’s Peak Drive which is a wildly scenic, windy road that hugs the cliffside and follows the coast to Noordhoek. You pay a small fee to use it and sometimes they have to close it when the conditions are unsafe. I had read about it being a bit “white knuckle”, but really compared to some of the roads in Colorado where we live, it was a piece of cake. The road was well maintained and had low walls in many places between you and the drop off. Plus, there were quite a few places to safely pull off and take pictures or admire the view. We did just that.

Looking back at Hout Bay

Looking back at Hout Bay







Michael admiring the Atlantic Ocean


You can see Chapman Drive cut out of the mountain



After reaching Noordhoek at the end of Chapman’s Peak Drive, we drove around Chapman’s Bay and continued down the coast. The scenery continued to be entertaining.


Chapman’s Bay



Notice the big statue of a whale down below!


Eventually we got to the turn off for the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The whole southern tip of the peninsula is set aside as a nature reserve and provides a rather stark contrast of open heath to the spectacular rocky coastline of the tip of the peninsula. We drove out to the end and found a busy parking lot complete with large tour buses. Not our usual gig, but we parked and got out so that we could go to the top of the hill where the lighthouse is located and get the view. They had a funicular railway that carried passengers   up the rather steep hike for a small fee. We chose to do this and then walk down. By this time it was bright and sunny with not too much wind and we were enjoying the weather. At the top, we took in the view from the historic lighthouse. The lighthouse sits on the tip of Cape Point, whereas the actual Cape of Good Hope is just to the side. It is believed that as you look out from Cape Point you are looking at the point at which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Pretty cool! It is not, as is commonly mistaken, the southernmost point in Africa. That distinction belongs to Cape Agulhas, further East along the coastline, closer to where we were in De Kelders.

Cape Point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet

Cape Point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet


Looking up the Eastern side of the Cape Peninsula

The Cape of Good Hope

The Cape of Good Hope





Rocks lurking off the point

Rocks lurking off the point



We did our best to ignore the throngs of visitors and enjoyed the views for a bit and then walked down the hill. The walk down convinced me that we had made the right choice in taking the easy way up! After a little peek in the souvenir shop and the purchase of a drink and a snack, we climbed back in the car and began the journey back up the other side of the peninsula.

Our next stop was near Simon’s Town at Boulders Beach where there is a land based colony of African penguins. African penguins are endangered and there are only a few of these colonies in the world. We paid a fee and walked down a boardwalk to the beach where we were able to see the birds nesting in the dunes and vegetation as well as hanging out on the beach and rocks and swimming in the ocean. It was pretty neat really see the penguins up close and nice that we could do it without bothering them by staying on the boardwalk.

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After our visit with the penguins we drove on up the coast of the peninsula, through Simon’s Town, Fish Hoek, and Kalk Bay. We decided not to stop anywhere else except for a quick stop at the ATM in Simon’s Town. Simon’s Town is home to a Naval base and we saw some young men in uniform walking the streets.


Simon’s Town

The afternoon was progressing and the weather had turned a bit cloudier as we drove up the peninsula, but we wanted to try to stop at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens if we could get there in time. We found our way pretty easily and decided to go for it. Our visit to Kirstenbosch will be the subject of my next post. Thank you for your patience, dear reader, as I continue to chronicle our fantastic voyage!